No. 14 Northwood Hosts Ashland in GLIAC Battle

Sept. 22, 2006

From Ashland Athletics

ASHLAND, Ohio ( In the television industry, this week marks a major happening. It's debut week as the networks trot out all their new programming. Some shows will rise to the top of charts, others will plummet to the basement of the ratings. No matter which way the shows go, lots of folks will be watching.

The same thing can be said of this week's Ashland-Northwood football game. This is a debut week on the gridiron, too, even though it's the fourth week of the season. AU head coach Lee Owens has never coached against the Timberwolves. Both of these coaching staffs are getting their first look at each other. What Owens and the Eagles will see when they look across the field is a team that's ranked 13th in the country by and 14th by the AFCA. Ashland was in the national rankings at the beginning of the season and is trying to climb back into that kind of company. The Eagles recorded their first win of the season last week after losing the first two weeks to nationally-ranked Saginaw Valley State and top-ranked Grand Valley State.



Sights and Sounds of the Game
All Ashland University games can be heard live on WNCO (1340 AM). This is the 14th consecutive season the station has broadcast AU games. Sam Renfroe will handle the play-by-play and Bill Linson will provide the commentary. Ashland Times-Gazette sports editor Dusty Sloan will cover the game and his game story will run in Monday's edition. The game will also be a national webcast on CSTV.

AU Head Coach Lee Owens
This is Lee Owens' third season as AU's head coach. A year ago, he earned the GLIAC coach of the year award. Owens and the Eagles were 5-6 in 2004 and 9-2 (8-2 GLIAC) in 2005. His career record on the college level is 55-71 in 11 years. Before arriving at AU, Owens was the head coach at the University of Akron from 1995-2003. He directed the Zips to their first consecutive winning seasons since the school became a Division I-A member (1999-2000). In 2000, Akron won a share of the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division championship. Owens coached the school's first consensus All-America, Dwight Smith. He also coached Charlie Frye, now the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. With Frye at the controls, Akron was sixth in the country in pass offense in 2003, ninth in total offense and 11th in scoring.

Owens got his start in college coaching at Ohio State (1992-1995), where he was an assistant coach on John Cooper's staff. He was a successful high school in Ohio - his career mark on the prep level is 89-32-2 in 11 seasons. Owens won a state championship (Division II) at Galion in 1985. He was the head coach at fabled Massillon High School (1988-92) where he was 35-13.

The AU head coach is a 1977 Bluffton graduate. He received his master's degree from Ashland in 1981.

  • Owens vs. Northwood: 0-0
  • Owens on the road with the Eagles: 7-5
  • Owens in September at AU: 4-6

These two schools haven't collided on the gridiron since 2003 when the Eagles went on the road and turned back the `Wolves, 24-21. AU had a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but NU got back in the contest with a 14-point fourth quarter. The story of this game was turnovers, the Timberwolves fumbled five times and AU recovered every one of those drops. The Timberwolves used three qua
rterbacks and that trio threw three interceptions. Ashland lost two fumbles in the game.

Antwan Hart paced the Eagles by rushing for 109 yards on 27 carries. He was also AU's leading receiver with 6 grabs for 57 yards. The Ashland defense scored a pair of touchdowns. Defensive back Aaron O'Reilly got the Eagles six points when he fell on a fumble in the end zone and linebacker Jeremy Crabtree (Pickerington, OH) scored when he returned a fumble 3 yards to paydirt. The game was played at night at Midland Community Stadium instead of on the NU campus.

Northwood's last win in the series came in 2002, 32-7 at Ashland's Community Stadium. NU took a 12-0 lead after one quarter and never looked back. The Timberwolves outgained the Eagles, 393-235. On the ground, the disparity was 234-150. AU tailback J.R. McCoy rushed for 133 yards on 33 carries. The Eagles' lone TD came on 3-yard run by quarterback John Szabo.

Ashland holds a 14-12-1 edge in the all-time series.

  • 2003 - Ashland 24 at Northwood 21
  • 2002 - Northwood 32, at Ashland 7
  • 2001 - at Northwood 35, Ashland 31
  • 2000 - Northwood 41 at Ashland 14
  • 1997 - at Ashland 24, Northwood 7

Last Look at Last Week
Ashland University defensive back Chris Holland (Youngstown, OH/Rayen) has played the role of life preserver so often that maybe he should have an orange jersey instead of the standard purple worn by the Eagles.

Orange - just like the safety vests the Coast Guard hands out. Last Saturday, Holland brought down Hillsdale wide receiver Aaron Waldie at the AU7, two yards shy of a first down on the final play of the game. That tackle stopped a Hillsdale drive and preserved a 30-24 win over the Chargers.

Holland made a similar play two years ago at Gannon, racing across the field to bring down the Golden Knights' Al Donadi. That tackle helped stall a GU drive and the Eagles went on to win in overtime.

Holland's tackle last Saturday finally extinguished the Chargers, who went back and forth with the Eagles all afternoon. AU led, 10-0 after one quarter and 17-10 at halftime. But the Chargers never went away. They put the Eagles back on their heels with a 20-play, 75-yard drive, that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Brett Neller with 5:01 to play in regulation. That tied the game, 24-24.

The Eagles went ahead to stay with 3:45 to play in the game when quarterback John Ferguson (Reynoldsburg, OH/Akron) lofted a 70-yard TD pass to wide receiver Brandon Gilmore (Mansfield, OH/Madison). Ferguson was 24-of-36 passing for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His other TD pass was a 4-yard throw to wide receiver David Ziegelhofer (Lexington, OH). Gilmore established personal single-game highs for receptions (7) and reception yards (127).

The Eagles also got a touchdown off of special teams when Gilmore blocked a punt and freshman Brian Glasper (Akron, OH/St. Vincent-St. Mary) returned the block 10 yards for a touchdown. Three more points were provided by freshman kicker Ryan Jung (Bellville, OH/Clear Fork), who kicked a 27-yard field goal.

. Hillsdale running back Phil Martin rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries. Ashland has allowed opposing backs to rush for over 100 yards for two consecutive weeks and that's the first time that's happened since Owens became AU's head coach (two weeks ago Grand Valley's Astin Martin went over the century mark).

Eye on the Eagles
Some of Ashland's key performers are listed below.

  • Luke Busson (Wadsworth, OH/Kent State) - Last season was Busson's first at AU. A transfer from Kent State, Busson had 68 total stops (42 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Busson is a 6-0, 228-pound junior linebacker. He led last year's team in sacks and tackles for loss. He has 14 tackles this season (7 solo) and 2.5 tackles for loss.
  • Jeremy Crabtree (Pickerington, OH) - A 6-2, 234-pound senior linebacker, Crabtree had the best year of his career in 2005 when he had 65 tackles (42 solo), 6 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 4 interceptions. Crabtree led the team in thefts and was second in tackles for loss. He was honorable mention All-GLIAC. This season he's made 14 tackles (6 solo).
  • John Ferguson (Reynoldsburg, OH/Akron) - Ferguson, a junior, has completed 53-of-92 passes this season (57.6 percent) for 665 yards with 4 touchdowns. He hasn't been intercepted. Ferguson is second in the GLIAC in passing yards per game (221.7), third in total offense (231.3 ypg.) and fourth in pass efficiency (132.7 rating).
  • Brandon Gilmore (Mansfield, OH/Madison) - This junior wide receiver leads the team in receptions (16), receiving yards (255), yards per catch (15.9) and receiving touchdowns (2). Gilmore is tied for third in the conference in receptions per game (5.33), is fourth in receiving yards per game (85.0) and eighth in all-purpose yards (95.0 ypg.).
  • Chris Holland (Youngstown, OH/Rayen) - Holland earned honorable mention all-conference laurels a year ago. He had 52 tackles (37 solo). The versatile senior can play either cornerback or safety. Holland has 12 tackles (8 solo) and the team's lone interception this season.
  • Ryan Jung (Bellville, OH/Clear Fork) - Jung is handling all the placements for the Eagles in 2006. He's 3-for-4 in field goal tries with a long of 27 yards.
  • Allen Lattimore (Dayton, OH/Colonel White) - Lattimore is a 6-2, 221-pound senior who was second team All-GLIAC last season. He had 75 tackles (33 solo), 8 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Lattimore is third on this year's team in tackles (24/10 solo). He's the team leader in sacks (3) and over the last two weeks has 4.5 tackles for loss.
  • Brady Miller (Cincinnati, OH/Elder) - A senior linebacker, Miller is a preseason All-America. A year ago, the 6-0, 224-pound Miller paced the team in tackles with 98 (56 solo). He had 8.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and an interception. Miller was first team All-GLIAC and an honorable mention All-America ( in 2005. This year, the Cincinnati product has a team-high 28 tackles (15 solo). He's fifth in the conference in tackles, averaging 9.3 tackles per game.
  • Gabe Sanders (Willard, OH) - A junior, Sanders has become an important cog in the passing game. The tight end has 5 catches for 59 yards (11.8 ypc.). He's fourth on the team in receptions.
  • Kyle Zelazny (Westerville, OH/South) - A senior nose tackle, Zelazny was a first team All-GLIAC choice in 2005. This season he has 14 tackles (7 solo) and 2.5 tackles for loss.
  • David Ziegelhofer (Lexington, OH) - A junior wide receiver, Ziegelhofer is second on the team in receptions (15) and receiving yards (137). He's fifth in the GLIAC in receptions per game (5.00).

New Coverage Plan on the Corner
He hasn't received his insurance license yet, but junior defensive back Kelly Ajala (Pittsburgh, PA/Schenley) has provided the Eagles with a complete coverage plan at cornerback. Ajala really started to come on as a key part of the secondary last spring. He's put together three good games to begin this season and is a vital part of the Eagles' defensive scheme.

"It's his experience," said secondary coach Steve Clinkscale. "His coachability. He's been able to take the teaching about technique and applied it every Saturday. He's improved every Saturday. His coverage has improved every Saturday. He's consistent."

Clinkscale believes aggressiveness is what makes Ajala effective. In the second half against both Saginaw Valley State and Grand Valley State, he was constantly pressing the man across the line from him. He did that for the entire game against Hillsdale and had his best game of the young season.

"He played tight and played a lot better," Clinkscale said. "This past week he was consistent for the entire game.

He's a cover guy," continued Clinkscale, "and he's very comfortable with that."

"Playing cornerback, there's no place you can hide," said Ajala. "I think I've been able to take the coaching I get in practice and carry it over to the games. I'm getting more comfortable."

Ajala has 13 tackles (11 solo) and one pass breakup in three games. He's faced a number of tests this season, none bigger than covering Grand Valley State's Eric Fowler.

"He ran good routes, he's fast and he knows how to read the cornerback's technique and use it to his advantage," Ajala said.

Just for Kicks

Owens has been coaching the Eagles since the 2004 season. Since that time, the Eagles have blocked 10 kicks. They had six last year and got their first in 2006 last week with a blocked punt against Hillsdale. That block last week led to the first special teams touchdown of the year. Last season, AU scored a pair of special teams touchdowns, both by Rock Lewis (Maple Heights, OH). Since Owens has been Ashland's head coach, the Eagles have scored four special teams touchdowns.

"We go over special teams every day in practice," said wide receiver Brandon Gilmore (Mansfield, OH/Madison), who blocked the punt against Hillsdale. "When they (Hillsdale) came out in that it was no surprise. I just got off the line, got a jump."

"You'd think we'd be a little more productive than we are," Owens said. "We did the punt block drill on the Sunday after the game. Not many teams do that. A lot of the time, you get into the season, you forget about fundamentals."

Owens never forgets special teams. It's a priority every day, every practice. He routinely puts AU's 10 fastest players on the punt block unit. He's also fortunate to have veteran players who have become special teams leaders.

"Rock Lewis and Viterio Jones, they're close to blocking kicks all the time," reported Owens. "They have fun doing it. You have guys like that, that attitude is contagious."

Rare Sighting

Big Foot doesn't show up on film much. Same thing with an offense like Northwood's Woodbone.

That's part of the problem with preparing for a run-dominated set like the Timberwolves employ. How do you coach against what you don't see? Owens and his staff haven't coached against Northwood before, but they've coached against similar offenses run by Navy, Cal Poly and Ohio University when they were at Akron.

"You can't simulate it in practice," pointed out Owens. "Your traditional adjustments go out the window. It forces you to be really simple. They try to get you confused. You watch the films when they played Mercyhurst and Findlay, you see defenders frozen. It's paralysis by analysis. We'll try to eliminate as much as possible. They (Northwood) run it as well as anyone I've coached against."

Quick Hitters

  • Ashland has outscored the opposition, 23-0 in the first quarter.
  • The Eagles are second in the GLIAC in pass offense (258.3 ypg.) and average the least amount of penalty yardage per game (22.7 ypg.) of any team in the league.
  • Trevor Wood (Newark, OH/Licking Valley) is second in the GLIAC in punting (39.5 ypp).
  • The Eagles have converted 50 percent (23-of-46) of their third downs. Last year, Ashland converted 34.6 percent of its third down attempts and ranked ninth in the league in that department.
  • Ashland had 13 interceptions a year ago. So far this season the Eagles have picked off one pass.
  • Of Ashland's 11 scoring drives this year, six have covered 70 or more yards.

Sounds of the Game

Owens on getting the first win of the season.

"The first one is always the hardest. It's been a tough week of practice. It's hard to get refocused, get down to earth."

Owens on the play of wide receiver Brandon Gilmore.

"He's come back with a new attitude. I think he's grown up. I think the year away made him appreciate the opportunity to play. Every snap counts. I don't think he'll take the opportunity to play for granted. There's never been a question about his ability. It's his ability to produce when the lights go on."

Quarterback John Ferguson on the state of the offense.

"I think we're where we are supposed to be passing wise, but obviously we need to run the ball a lot better. That takes the pressure off the passing game."

Ferguson on the running game.

"People have to make plays. We have to know our assignments and execute the game plan. We're pretty close, it's just mental breakdowns. It's not physical. We have to be focused all the time."

Ferguson on making the move from Division I to Division II football.

"It's different. It probably surprised me, I may have downplayed it a little bit when I got here. The guys I'm playing against are really good. The guys I played against in the spring were really good. There's a difference, but not that big a difference."

Owens on the AU running game.

"I'm not as disappointed with the backs and the line as I was right after the game. It's wasn't physical. Occasionally, the back would go the wrong way. It wasn't a physical mismatch, I thought last year they (Hillsdale) handled us a little bit. It was some inexperience with the backs, running at the wrong place. Plus, we substituted some more guys up front."


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